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The Film


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Last Viewed:2004.11.04
First/Last Reviewed:2005.04.03/2005.05.07

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It's hard for many to believe how bad times have been for Hong Kong in recent years. SARS has had a huge depressing effect on the population, and on top of that, several of its biggest stars have died. Leslie Cheung committed suicide and Anita Mui died of cancer for example. This has had quite an indescribable negative effect on the movie industry. The mood was gloomy to say the least. I have been a huge fan of Hong Kong cinema since the early 90's, and i have followed it closely since, with many classic films such as Beast Cops (1998), Fulltime Killer (2001), Hollywood Hong-Kong (2001), Lost And Found (1996), Time And Tide (2000), John Woo's action extravaganzas, Wong Kar-Wai's contemplative visual experiments, and many more. But i must admit that in the past 3 years or so, Hong-Kong cinema has been sluggish at best, pushing out mostly mediocre faces. I think 2004 is seeing a revival of sorts of Hong Kong Cinema. Four films in particular have caught my attention in the past few months.

 - Tung-Shing Yee's One Night In Mongkok (2004) is a gritty urban thriller that reminds us of Hong Kong films from the mid 90's.

 - Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle (2004) is a martial arts romp with wonderful visuals and creativity.

 - Xiaogang Feng's A World Without Thieves (2004), is a modern cape and dagger tale set on an train traveling through northern China.

 - Fruit Chan's Three... Extremes, Dumplings (2004) is a deliciously disturbing cannibalism tale that addresses many taboos of the Chinese culture.

One Night In Mongkok is a movie i first saw in November 2004 and which had an immediate reaction from me. It made me feel like i was back in the 90's when Hong Kong movies were cool. I hadn't felt that from a Hong Kong movie in quite a while, especially since i had become quite absorbed by all the great films that have come out of Korea and Japan in the past few years. The film got the Best Director award recently for the 2004 Hong Kong Academy Awards.

This is a gritty urban crime story that takes place in the most densely populated area in the entire world, the Mongkok section of Hong Kong. Roy (Daniel Wu), a young man from the mainland, arrives in Hong-Kong one day with the mission to find and assassinate a local mobster. While he waits to get a gun, and money to escape, he meets with Dan (Cecilia Cheung), a good-hearted prostitute who will help him navigate the city. But word gets out that a killer has arrived in town to get rid of the boss, and an incredible manhunt starts. The Police, of course, hears about this, and starts its own hunt in order to avoid a bloodshed. The young couple becomes instantly the hottest fugitives, both from the Police and the Underworld. On the Police side, inspector Miao (Alex Fong) is in chare of the case and has to deal with a hot new recruit (Anson Leung) who is a little bit too trigger happy and who risks endangering the mission.

The story in itself is not very new, but the interesting part is how it is brought to the screen in a gritty realistic way, with plenty of chills and ample supplies of blood. Most importantly though are the themes underlying the story. In particular, the theme of actually killing someone, ending someone's life, is recurrent throughout the movie and affects many of the characters. Roy is a country boy from the mainland who accepted to carry out this hit for money for his family, but he is not a violent person, and the idea of killing someone haunts him. Inspector Miao is a seasoned officer who has killed someone by accident in the past. This experience has hardened him considerably and filled him with regrets over his actions. In contrast, the hot shot new recruit actually believes that most people he gets in contact with are guilty from the get go, and so, when he "accidentally" kills a suspect during a raid, he starts feeling quite proud, bringing over him despise from Inspector Miao. In this film, the act of killing, whether accidentally or not, is brought forth with a strong realism and multiple perspectives from its various characters. Ultimately, since this is a serious Asian film, fate will deal tragic blows to many of its characters until the final confrontation between the three parties which left me breathless. Although it was very violent, it finally brings together three men and their destinies in a very satisfying way.

On the technical side, the movie is very well done. The dark and jittery cinematography enhances the gritty nature of the film. Even when the radiant Cecilia Cheung comes on screen, you never forget where the story takes place. The Mongkok section of Hong Kong is brought to life with style and throughout the movie, you can't help but feel somewhat claustrophobic and overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of humans who live in such a small place. Everything feels over crowded. Every space is confined. You never get a sense that you can just sit down and relax for a moment. Day or night, the area is constantly filled with noise and people. The movie conveys these feelings very well. The art direction is top notch as a result.

Performance-wise, Daniel Wu is good as always, and Cecilia Cheung manages to come out of the screen easily, even if her role is rather standard. Alex Fong is very classy and portrays the wise and disillusioned Police officer very well too. The supporting cast also does well, lending a very full feeling to the overall story. There are many characters with important parts, and all are conducive to the story, and, once again, this feeling of massive human density.

One Night In Mongkok is a great movie, in the tradition of Hong-Kong movies of the mid 90's, albeit, with certainly a darker tone and grittier realism. In tone, i was reminded of Beast Cops mixed in with some earlier Martin Scorsese flavor (think Mean Streets). I am hoping that Hong-Kong will churn out more movies of that caliber. A source of such great films in the past, Hong-Kong has slumped over the past few years. I hope that 2004 marked a turn in the right direction.

> > > On to part 2, the review for Kung Fu Hustle (2004) > > >

- Laurent Hasson